By all accounts, I'd say it was a pretty decent weekend. I went and caught a movie at the theatergoer-centered movie house in the neighborhood, ate some tasty burgers at one of my favorite diner-focused restaurants, and drank a couple of frosty mugs of beer at a little German dive bar that's perfected the art of drinker satisfaction since opening 20-something years ago.

OK, so nobody really talks like that in the hospitality industry. I guess it's just sort of assumed that most places are trying to bend over backwards to leave their customers feeling satisfied. But in health care, this is a more recent fad (and things in this industry seem to go in cycles, so I'm guessing it was also a previous fad that died out decades ago). Growing competition, the Yelp-ification of health care, and reimbursement formulas tied to satisfaction are all bringing the consumer experience to the forefront.

It seems as if every other story I write has something to do with patient satisfaction — from new hospitals built like hotels with flat screen TVs and comfy furniture, to doctors visiting patients wherever they desire, to patient panels that use feedback to transform the delivery system.

So it's with a little trepidation that I leap into my next gatefold story for the April edition of H&HN, focusing on the patient experience. What can I say about this topic that hasn't been written about dozens of times before? And how can I narrow the focus when I'm exploring a topic that touches nearly every aspect of health care?

I recently spoke with one expert, Camden Group Senior VP Mary Witt, to see what her crystal ball holds for the future of bolstering the patient experience. A lot of what she offered was stuff you probably already know about and are championing at your hospital — implementing EHRs to better coordinate care, improving communication between everyone who touches a patient, and relying on primary care physicians to quarterback the whole way. A lot of these trends, she says, are leading toward an environment where there's greater access care, and not necessarily in the hospitals. Along with highly portable medical records, tools like Skype have the potential to truly transform care delivery.

"If we're going to impact patients' health, we need to be where the patient is and facilitate the patient accessing information and care in a way that makes the most sense for them," Witt says. "If we keep putting barriers up to patients accessing information and care, they're never going to take accountability and do some of the preventative things that we want them to do to maintain their health."

As hospitals and health systems fine-tune their patient satisfaction strategies, Witt believes that one of the biggest challenges will be sustaining those efforts. The temptation is to just work to meet a benchmark and then exhale and let all those improvements peter out. Building toward not just one good patient experience, but "patient loyalty," will be a focus of the future.

"I sometimes worry that it's a program du jour, and that what we don't really think about is how we sustain that reorientation to trying to be more customer focused," Witt says. "It's not a process that you do once and then you forget about it."

So hospital leaders: What are you doing to try and better the patient experience and stay ahead of the curve? And consultants: What do you see as the next big thing in this arena, and what advice are you giving providers to help them sustain all the progress they've made? Email me your thoughts at, or give me a ring at 312-422-2605. We're trying to make this a reader-centered magazine home, so I'd love to hear your thoughts.